Art of Bleeding:
Sing Songs and the Bright Future of Safety Consciousness
by Marianne Williams
Rev. Al: Well, I suppose stories about finger amputations and grisly car wrecks can be somewhat distressing, but the fact that you chose to listen for hours on end is very encouraging. I would compare symptoms like your nausea to those experienced following the ingestion of certain hallucinogenic drugs. The only problem is, you didn’t go far enough. I would recommend listening to each track for at least 12 hours if you are to reach that deeply immersive experience needed to open the inner gateway to True Safety Consciousness.
MW: What do you mean by “True Safety Consciousness”?
Rev. Al: The Art of Bleeding takes an unconventional approach to teaching health and safety. That moment of illumination I was just referring to might be comparable to the moment when someone’s at the brink of death and has their entire life flash before their eyes – it’s an epiphany brought on by danger. Our approach to teaching draws on that idea and tends to immerse the audience in the experience of accidents and danger rather than just reciting rules that allegedly make life “safer” as conventional health-and-safety lessons would. Our approach is more inclusive of life’s whole spectrum, and therefore “True.” Also, more fun.
MW: Are the tracks on your album, “Music from the Magic Ambulance,” crafted to accompany performance/video pieces, or are they written more traditionally as songs for an album?
Rev. Al: Most were just written as songs just for the sake of the song… if “song” is even the best word.We’ve used some similar sample-based music in live shows, like an early show that involved a dozen dancers, dressed up with bandages and crutches choreographed to a piece merging that spiritual “Dry Bones” (“headbone connected to the neckbone”, etc.) with audio snippets about orthopedic injuries. There is also one track, “The Magic Ambulance,” sung by our spokesmascot Abram the Safety Ape. It was written by my brother Eric Ridenour, and is much closer to the kiddy-show feel of the current live shows. He also wrote the Gory Details theme music.
MW: How do you write and record music?
Rev. Al: When it’s not specifically written to enhance a performance or video, then it usually begins with some particularly arresting verbal or musical phrase, something that might bounce along interestingly when looped. Or maybe there’s just some phrase in a film narration that jumps out and begs to be used, like: “This is part of what the coroner will have to scrape off of the automobile. It was once a human being.” That was a particularly grim snippet borrowed from an old traffic safety film. These samples and my midi fumbling are then put together using a combination of ProTools, Ableton Live, and Garageband.
MW: Where do you source your sounds and samples from?
Rev. Al: Mainly old classroom films used in health and safety courses. I used to buy old 16mm films from the ‘50s to the ‘80s on eBay, and record them myself, but now it’s also possible to find streaming audio online. If you’re interested in these things, check out stuff by Sid Davis, (known particularly for his homophobic anti-pedophilia film Boys Beware) as well as any of the scared-straight driver’s ed films produced in association with the Ohio Highway Patrol, (Wheels of Death, Red Asphalt). We also work little video snippets from films like these into our live shows.
MW: Do you use samples more than once?
Rev. Al: There is one siren sound that I usually use to open live shows just because there’s nothing that beats a siren for getting people’s attention, but aside from that I almost never re-use material. I get bored easily. Even with our live shows, there are lots of scripts that have only been performed a couple times because I’d just rather be working out new material than dragging the same old show around to different venues.
MW: You are building an incredible sound library of real life medical horror stories you call “Gory Details,” recording user generated content pulled from your 24 hour hotline (1.888.467.8535) and sometimes reenacting the stories in psychedelic videos with the AOB staff. What’s the master plan for Gory Details?
Rev. Al: Well, I like how it allows people to interact with us, and even become part of the show in some cases. Some of those stories are also recorded face-to-face when we take the ambulance out on public streets and invite people in to record, so that’s even more direct contact. The videos seem to be the best medium for popularizing our efforts, and I suppose the master plan is really just an extension of all that – more people, more involved and more interested, more stories and more creative collaborators so we can get these things online faster.
MW: Do you listen to music? Vinyl, CD, Mp3, Radio? If so, what are some of your favorites/influences?
Rev. Al: I am fine with the canonical hipster music, though I only get really excited by more outsider stuff that still at least feels undiscovered — old children’s records, goofy meditation records, home-produced gospel recordings, stuff like that. I used to feed this hunger with trips to flea markets, but now there’s plenty of online sources like WFMU out of New Jersey. They originally snagged me with a show that exclusively played old kiddy records, and that kind of thing’s naturally related to The Art Bleeding’s faux-kiddy-show environment. I’d also like and would like to claim as musical family: The Bran Flakes, Negativland, Evolution Control Committee, and Wayne Butane — thanks to the common way they make amusing use of sampled material.
MW: What’s the worst actual medical accident you or one of your staff has incurred during an AOB activity?
Rev. Al: Nurse Poppy bashed her head on an open door of the ambulance while we were rushing around in the dark, using the area behind the vehicle as a backstage during a show. She recovered pretty quickly, and there was no blood thankfully. I also routinely cut myself with X-acto knives and burn myself with glue guns when I’m making props because I tend to rush more than I should.
MW: Have you ever driven the ambulance to an emergency room?
Rev. Al: No, but I have driven the ambulance past a number of auto accidents. I always feel bad, like I’m supposed to stop and jump out and help the paramedics with the defibrillator or something. I feel like I should wave or do some fellow-ambulance-driver type thing, but I guess that would be bad.
MW: So, do you have a medical fetish?
Rev. Al: I’d just say that sexy women in sexy nurse “uniforms” happens to be a very effective means of focusing audience attention on things that count — like the cultivation of True Safety Consciousness.
MW: It seems like you frequently get invited to perform at fetish clubs and cabarets. What is your ideal venue?
Rev. Al: We are performing at a club called “Fetish Nation” this month, but that’s kind of on the far end of things. We do tend to end up sharing the stage with burlesque acts because of the afore-mentioned nurses and their costumes. In fact, I used to term the show “paramedical vaudeville” thanks to its combination of nurse-tease and comedy, not that people necessarily understood what I meant by that phrase. Doing shows on stages in cabarets is great, but with a puppet theater, a 7-foot robot, possibly a gurney, gorilla, several nurses, and projection screens, it’s nice to spread out a bit more. We’ve had some of our most interesting shows in more irregular warehouse or art spaces, where we can drive the ambulance inside and build the show around that, complete with squirting blood or flames, things that regular venues won’t allow.
MW: In your opinion, have any of your staff performances ever “crossed the line?”
Rev. Al: We had a breast cancer themed show that seemed to make an audience in Las Vegas a bit squirmy. But the worst would’ve been this walk-through womb installation I created as Art of Bleeding’s contribution to an artists’ “haunted house” called “The Museum of Mental Decay.” Guests were invited into this goo-covered womb where I was wrestling with a slimy 7-foot rubber fetus I’d sculpted. Actually, they were not so much invited in as lassoed in using the 20-foot umbilical cord. One woman actually ran screaming from the building.
MW: What was the last normal job you had?
Rev. Al: I’ve been picking up freelance odds and ends for years, but the last time I had a normal job where I regularly went into an office, I did computer animation, which I guess is normal, at least to people in Los Angeles. Before that I worked in a group home for schizophrenics, which I guess doesn’t count, does it?
MW: Have you ever gone to jail for your art?
Rev. Al: Not exactly. But when I was “Grand Instigator” of the Los Angeles Lodge of the Cacophony Society, a group of creatively inclined pranksters and provocateurs, there were many close calls. The only jail detainment I experienced was the jail of an “Old West” movie-set town, where a banjo and fiddle festival was being held. We had visited dressed as clowns and done a number of naughty things that got us detained by the park rangers, and there was no other place to put us but behind bars in the two cells of this make-believe sheriff’s headquarters. With our encouragement, children outside started chanting, “Free the clowns! Free the clowns!” and I guess the growing absurdity of it all worked in our favor, since we were eventually released with a wrist-slap. At least that’s how I remember it.
MW: If the Art of Bleeding amassed a cult following similar to the Juggalos and Juggalettes of the ICP, would this make you:
Rev. Al: Scared. Very scared.